Frontline, S. GANESALINGAN
The book traces the history of the struggle for a Tamil homeland in Sri
THE author of the book under review, Pavai Chandran, is a
well-known writer and journalist in Tamil. At the request of the editor
of the Tamil daily Dinamani, he had undertaken the task of writing the
history of the struggle for a Tamil homeland (eelam) in Sri Lanka. The
armed struggle ended with the death of V. Prabakaran, the supremo of the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), on May 18, 2009.
The history was serialised in the daily in 178 instalments from June
1, 2009, to November 27, 2009, to cash in on the emotional impact of
Prabakaran's death in Tamil Nadu. It has now been published as a book
with 56 chapters in two volumes.
Pavai Chandran begins the story with the original inhabitants of the
island and their life under the rule of Western powers – the Portuguese,
the Dutch and the British – for about 450 years. Freedom came in 1948
soon after the British left India after a prolonged freedom struggle. At
the point of freedom, the majority of people (about 75 per cent) in the
island were Sinhalese.
The minorities consisted of Tamils, including Muslims, in the
Northern and Eastern provinces. There were also the Tamils who had been
brought by the British from India as indentured labour to work in their
plantations. Also called upcountry Tamils, or Indian Tamils, they formed
the backbone of the Sri Lankan economy. They were rendered stateless by
the Sri Lankan government in 1948 itself – the first attack on
minorities in Sri Lanka. Subsequently, the Sirimavo Bandaranaike-Lal
Bahadur Shastri pact in 1964 brought them some concessions, including
citizenship. The author argues that the suppression of the minorities in
matters of employment, education and land issues began soon after the
country's independence. This led to protests by Tamils through their
political parties and groups aligned with them.
Pavai Chandran has narrated in detail the peaceful protests and their
suppression by the police and the armed forces with emergency laws and
violence. Notable instances include the protest against the Sinhala Only
Act (formally the Official Language Act) in 1956, the killings at the
World Tamil Conference in Jaffna (1974) and the burning of the Jaffna
public library (1981) with its collection of 90,000 rare books.
In May 1976, at the first National Convention of the Tamil United
Liberation Front (TULF), S.J.V. Chelvanayagam (who later came to be
known as the father of the Tamil nation for his fight for a federal
state for Tamils in a united Sri Lanka) moved the famous Vaddukoddai
Resolution. The resolution asked for a separate state for Tamils, called
Tamil Eelam, with the consent of the elected Tamil Members of
Parliament. The President, J.R. Jayewardene, made attempts to pacify the
MPs and the Tamil youth who took to militancy after being badly
affected by unemployment and lack of access to higher education
following the standardisation process for admission.
A turning point in the history of the struggle came about in July
1983 when Tamil militants attacked an army convoy and killed several
soldiers. This sparked ethnic riots against Tamils all over the island.
Several militant leaders held in prison in Colombo were killed. Those
who survived were transported to the Batticaloa prison, from where they
escaped to Tamil Nadu and emerged as the core of the militant groups
that launched the armed struggle in Sri Lanka.
Pavai Chandran narrates in detail the Thimphu talks between Tamil
parties and Sri Lankan government representatives. The talks failed, but
they were significant because it brought all parties involved in the
conflict to the table.
ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP
SRI LANKAN SOLDIERS beside a destroyed church in Mullaithivu, the former
military headquarters of the LTTE, two days after they wrested control
of the area on January 25, 2009. "Eelam War IV" ended with the killing
of LTTE chief Prabakaran and other leaders of his group.
The author writes in detail about the Provincial Council Bill
that the Sri Lankan Parliament passed despite protests from Opposition
parties. The Bill was a part of the process of finding a solution to the
ethnic conflict. The LTTE, which had by then emerged as the major
militant party, was against such a settlement. The then Congress
government in India, headed by Rajiv Gandhi, favoured it and was its
In another chapter, the author speaks about, in about 21 pages, the
organisational structure of the LTTE, its militant actions in the
northern part of the island, its undisputed leader Prabakaran, its
elimination of other militant groups, and Prabakaran's speech on every
November 27, which the LTTE observed as Heroes' Day, when he made his
In the second volume, there is a long report, in three sections, on
the role of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka and its
fight with the LTTE. When R. Premadasa became President, he arranged for
talks with the LTTE and subsequently got the IPKF to withdraw from the
island, something Rajiv Gandhi reluctantly agreed to do. The author
states that Premadasa played a cunning game against India by aligning
with Prabakaran to achieve the withdrawal of the IPKF. However,
Premadasa was killed by the LTTE at a May Day rally in 1993.
The LTTE gained control of a major portion of the North East Province
following the victory in the war at Elephant Pass. After the first
provincial council elections in the North East Province, in 1988,
Varatharaja Perumal became the Chief Minister.
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, who took over as the first woman
President of Sri Lanka in November 1994, realised that it was futile to
continue the war with the LTTE. At the initiative of Prime Minister
Ranil Wickremasinghe, a ceasefire was declared under the supervision of a
peace-monitoring mission from Norway.
In the period that followed, the LTTE developed banking services and a
police force and improved the fighting capacity of its forces by
expanding the Sea Tigers. In April 2002, Prabakaran held a press
conference in Kilinochchi for the international media.
When Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected to power in November 2005, peace
prevailed for a short period – until the Mavil Aaru dam and
water-sharing issue took centre stage in July 2006. The Sri Lankan
Supreme Court also declared illegal, in 2006, the merger of the Northern
and Eastern Provinces, and a demerger was effected in January 2007.
Against this backdrop, “Eelam War IV” commenced with the violation of
the ceasefire agreement by both parties and Norway's withdrawal of its
Pavai Chandran ends the narration with Prabakaran's Heroes' Day
speech in November 2008 and the subsequent tragic events. The war ended
with the killing of Prabakaran, along with other leaders of his group.
Pavai Chandran has narrated the struggle in about 910 pages, in a
language and style that is journalistic yet readable like a historical
novel. The book comprises about 40 pages of photographs and annexures of
important Acts and agreements in Sri Lanka's history.